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CoastLine: Fear-based political agenda led to 1898 Wilmington massacre, says LeRae Umfleet

Red Shirts, a White supremacist armed militia, posing at the polls on Election Day
NC Archives
Red Shirts, a White supremacist armed militia, posing at the polls on Election Day

What makes history come alive?  When you can see repercussions, for good or for ill, in the present day.  It’s why North Carolina state historian LeRae Umfleet, the author of the state’s official report on Wilmington’s 1898 massacre and coup d'état, keeps talking about it.

“It’s politics that stirred everything up. Political rhetoric inflamed the shooters so much that they killed people who lived in their own community. It was neighbor killing neighbor.”

That’s how North Carolina Research Historian LeRae Umfleet describes a key realization for her about Wilmington, North Carolina’s coup d’etat.

The moment was both revelatory and shocking for Umfleet: the idea that a political movement could engender so much fear, hatred, and anger that it could drive people to murder their own neighbors.

125 years ago, on November 10, 1898, a mob of White men set The Daily Record on fire. At the time, it was the only African-American daily newspaper in the south and possibly the only one in the nation.

After destroying the newspaper, mob violence continued in the streets of Wilmington, where White men attacked and killed between 40 and 60 people, most of them African-American. Many more, both White and Black, who did not support the white-supremacist movement, were banished from the city.

Also that day, the mob forced local, duly-elected city officials to resign at gunpoint. White supremacist leaders took their seats.

The carefully planned violence by a White supremacist cabal had one goal: to recapture political power.

Historian LeRae Umfleet of North Carolina’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, is the primary researcher and author of the state’s official Wilmington Race Riot Report, commissioned in 2003 and accepted into the historical record by state statute in 2006. That work led to her book, “A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot,” published in 2009.

The New Hanover County Public library is sponsoring a talk by LeRae Umfleet, followed by a Q and A with the author, on November 11, 2023 at 2 PM in Wilmington City Council Chambers at Thalian Hall.

Links & Resources: 

A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot, UNC Press

1898 Story Map: https://nhcgov.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=5a4f5757e4904fb8bef6db842c1ff7c3

NC Archives Flickr page:


North Carolina 1898 Race Riot Report:


Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.